Under: Boxing, karate, kick boxing
2 Oct 2016


One of the fighter’s dilemmas is what happens when you grow old? I’ve written about this before but I want to take a slightly different tact other than entertaining the thought that old men will fight as good as young men. This is a case of diminishing returns. The older a man gets – the more his skill, strength, and stamina leaves him.


Specifically someone used to fighting any kind of sport karate (point sparring, continuous sparring, full contact or kick boxing, and even mma) will notice all of the hungry young pups giving the oldsters a run for their money. If an older fighter has not made the transition from fighter to coach at some point – what will be left? That is the point of this article. But first watch an old guy letting his gloves do the talking. I don’t know if there is any colorful language as these are not English speakers.




I guess the old man schooled the younger man in this case. I’m guessing the younger man was not a good boxer as he did not seem to have any boxing skills. Would I expect the older guy to always beat a younger man? No but I’ll take it. Loved seeing him mop up the floor with him.


It reminds me as a youth at Long Island, NY, I was in Irving’s Coffee Shop and saw a couple of punk kids giving this old man a hard time at the bar. The old guy told them he did not want to mess up this nice man’s coffee shop and would be waiting for them out back. The old man left out the back door. The young punks high-tailed it out the front door. :)


Now to my discussion about how old men fighters can transition. Firstly you have to understand that while the body gets older – your mind still thinks you are young! You can probably think of a lot of examples of how old men still tried to work out as they did in their younger years and how they pay dearly for that. Yes aches and pains come easier and don’t heal as fast any more.


Karate practitioners have it fairly easy into their 50’s as they can still do most of the moves and keep the youngsters on their toes. But at some point, sport karate is out the door. I mean in my case I used to be able to spar for literally hours at a time without much of a break. I’d take on all comers – students and other black belts alike.


I recall when I was 26 years old and training for full contact karate. I’d do my road work in the mornings, go to work and then do two hour work outs before dinner. I was training in karate and boxing (no mma back then). I recall my trainer trying to figure out how long I could keep kicking on the bag and while egging me on – I went 10 minutes  of straight, hard kicking attacks on the bag. Boy do I wish I was in that kind of shape today.


So here is where old fighters can still excel! Savviness and transition sport strikes to self-defense strikes!!! Let me explain.


A Savvy fighter can win the day with a winning strategy. I have been karate fighting for 45 years. I’ve learned a thing or two about distance, timing, striking, foot work, and getting everything working together that young men (even if trained) might not fully appreciate.


Most people will never become great fighters. They simply will not put in the work to learn the finer point of fighting. So any top of the line fighters in any discipline will have an advantage.


So old men can still compete to a point in sport karate although probably not at the high end.  But what about the down side? Yes there is a down side.


Older men will not have the stamina so any fights beyond two minutes – the younger men will start to have the advantage. Even in this example of the younger man with few skills – he would have probably won the bout by dancing around for a couple of minutes and tiring the old guy out first (if he was smart enough).


Most older men cannot compete at high levels for long. There are exceptions of older men that are in exceptionally good shape at 60… but the rest of the older men will not be able hang long with a younger man.


What can older men do as well or better then young men? Self-Defense! What? What am I talking about?


Younger men have egos. They have not come to a place in their life where they can admit they don’t know everything and an old geezer might be able to beat them in some scenarios. Old men have already gone through all of the stages of life, have little to lose and understand what the young man can do to them in a real fight.


I give you the following. A old man and wife are walking through a isolated part of a park. They are assaulted by a young mugger on some drug acting erratically. The old man decides that they may be harmed even if they comply so he pulls out his wallet and holds it slightly out for the mugger.


The mugger attempts to grab it with one hand while the other is holding a knife. Just as the mugger is about to reach the wallet the old man drops it and grabs the knife hand. He delivers a quick eye-shot with the other and then kicks the mugger’s groin… and gains control of the knife.


While this situation is not ideal – it demonstrates a couple of key self defense targets even an old guy can do to try and save his life. If the mugger does not run – the old guy could stab his throat – likely ending the attack.


Here is the deal – the old guy, even an old top level karate fighter in his 80’s would not win a toe to toe fight but self-defense targets tend to even the odds. Even if the mugger has a knife – he has no expectation that the old couple could or would fight back.


I ran a couple of self-defense sparring classes at the school recently with full head (fencing)  gear and found it is ridiculously easy to use self-defense strikes (eyes, throat, groin) in place of less lethal targeting by kicks and punches. We reasoned whenever we got old we would still be able to defend ourselves in almost any situation.


Punches to the face and body and kicks to the groin, body and head are more traditionally sport karate strikes. But for self defense one does not have to try and knock anyone out… incapacitating with little force is more in line with the goals of self-defense.


So in closing it is possible for older fighters to transition from sport karate to self-defense!


I’ll leave you with this story of how a 70 year old Marine vet dispatched a robber on a vacation here.



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6 Responses to “Transitioning from Sport Karate Fighter to Self-Defense!”

  1. Dr. J Says:

    Very thoughtful article,John! I suppose I’m in that transitional stage where my athletic skills are fading. I’ll leave it to your imagination as to where I am transitioning to :-)

    At this point, although I am not as skilled in the practice technique classes where all the younger guys shine, when it comes to fighting, I have learned how to still hide my deficiencies.

  2. John W. Zimmer Says:

    They say old age and treachery will beat youth and inexperience every time! :)

  3. wel Says:

    I’ve been on vacation—LOL
    Dr.J said you were still writing, good read.

  4. John W. Zimmer Says:

    hey Bill! Glad to see you back writing – added a link so I can keep up. John

  5. Howard Cassady Says:

    I definitely agree that each person have must know how to learn self-defense to defend yourself from the oppressors Moreover, thank you for your precise and good insights about self-defense.
    Howard Cassady recently posted..Holiday SpecialMy Profile

  6. John W. Zimmer Says:

    Hi Howard, Thanks for stopping by and checking out our site. I must say that BJJ is a fun method of ground fighting and is a good choice for any well rounded martial artist.